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What are the best Scotch whisky brands?

Despite challenges from newer whisky countries like India and resurgent old ones like Ireland, Scotch whisky is still by far the largest whisky producer in the world. Scotland produces around 700 million litres of whisky per year. That’s one billion bottles, far more than its nearest challenger the USA. According to SWA figures In 2022, Scotch Whisky exports were worth £6.2bn. That’s a lot of Scotch whisky.

From being the junior partner to Ireland when it came to whisky for much of the 19th century, Scotland at first overtook and then eclipsed its neighbour by the turn of the century. And the main reason it did this was through brilliant marketing from brands such as Johnnie Walker and John Dewar & Sons. Then during Prohibition and after, Scotch whisky became America’s favourite too.

This would all have been blended whisky but starting in the 1960s, the Scots whisky industry saw the development of single malt brands. These were high quality whiskies from single distilleries that would previously have gone into blends. The pioneer here was Glendiddich from William Grant & Sons. It was soon joined by Macallan, Glenlivet, Glenfarclas, and many others.

Today, whether they are single malts or blends, Scotland is still home to the biggest whisky brands in the world. We’ve picked a few of the biggest single malts and a few blends too. Apologies for not having the space to include such icons as Cutty Sark, J&B, John Dewar & Sons and The Famous Grouse

Here are the best Scotch whisky brands:

Macallan’s striking distillery opened in 2018

The Macallan

There can be few whisky fans who don’t know the name Macallan, or The Macallan as we should properly call it. This great distillery celebrates its 200th anniversary this year but it was only in the 1970s when it began to seriously market its single malts. Since then it has become the most collectable whisky of all. Macallan single malts regularly break records at auction – a bottle of 1926 Macallan sold for £2.2 in December 2023. 

Bottle to buy:

The Macallan 12 Year Old Sherry Oak


The Glenlivet

The Glenlivet rather grandly styles itself as “the single malt that started it all” but there’s more than a grain of truth to its claim. In the early 18th and 19th century when most Highland malt whisky was distilled illegally, Glenlivet had a reputation that stretched as far as London. In 1824, however, its owner George Livet took advantage of the recently-passed Excise Act and went legitimate with a brand new distillery. Today it competes with Glenfiddich as the bestselling single malt whisky in the world. 

Bottle to buy:

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old



Glenfiddich was a relatively small brand owned by William Grant & Sons when in 1963 the family took the momentous decision to concentrate on single malt sales. A revolutionary step at a time when almost all single malt production went into blends. The gamble paid off and eleven years later sixteen new stills were installed to cope with demand. Since then single malts have become a large part of the whisky landscape. Glenfiddich has inspired countless imitators but it is still the biggest single malt brand in the world.

Bottle to buy:

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old 


Talisker on the Isle of Skye had a big reputation in the 19th century. Robert Louis Stevenson described it as “the king o’ drinks.” But for most of the 20th century, its distinctive single malt was used in blends until Diageo began marketing Talisker single malt as part of its Classic Malts range in 1988. Since then it has become something of a cult with Talisker 10 Year Old a great favourite among whisky lovers.

Bottle to buy:

Talisker 10 Year Old



Another hugely popular distillery among single malt aficionados. It’s one of the few to be still owned by the Grant family (not the same people who own Glenfiddich). The distillery preserves old techniques like direct-fired stills and all its production goes into sherry casks meaning that if you love the rich, dry fruit-rich Speyside style, then Glenfarclas should be at the top of your list.

Bottle to buy:

Glenfarclas 105



Dating back to 1815, Laphroaig was founded by Donald and Alexander Johnstone and remained in the family’s hands until 1954, when Ian Hunter, the last relative of the Johnstones, died. His legacy is honoured with a series of special rare releases.

Now in the hands of Beam Suntory, Laphroaig produces one of the world’s most distinctive whiskies with its medicinal smoky taste. No wonder it is said to be the favourite single malt of King Charles III. 

Bottle to buy:

Laphroaig Quarter Cask 

The tallest stills in Scotch


Another old distillery that reinvented itself when single malts began to take off. For many years, 10 Year Old expression was the only one bottled by the distillery but in 1987 Glenmorangie released a 1963 vintage single malt which was finished in oloroso sherry casks. This was followed in the early ‘90s by a Port cask-finished whisky and then a plethora of other cask finishes like Madeira, sherry and Sauternes. 

Bottle to buy:

Glenmorangie 10 Year Old



Ardbeg inspires fierce loyalty among whisky fans. Not least because it very nearly didn’t survive. The distillery was only working sporadically for most of the ’80s and ’90s, and by 1996, apparently “the bulldozers were at the gates”. But happily, in 1998 Ardbeg was saved when it was bought and refurbished by the Glenmorangie Company (who are now part of LVMH).

Bottle to buy:

Ardbeg Uigeadail



Many people know of Lagavulin because of the association with actor Nick Offerman from Parks & Recreation. Offerman has done a series of films with the distillery notable for his amusing pronunciation of the word ‘Lagavulin.’ But even without celeb endorsement, Lagavulin would be at or very near the top of any list of Scotch whisky brands for its brilliant smoke tempered by sherry 16 year old.

Bottle to buy:

Lagavulin 16 Year Old 



Before the growth of blended whisky in the 19th century, Bowmore on Islay was marketed as a single malt whisky. Suntory acquired a stake in the company during the late 1980s. In 1994, they bought the company outright. Bowmore enjoys a curious middle-ground as far as flavour is concerned; far from being a lighter offering – à la Northern Islay-based Bunnahabhain – the spirit is not as heavily peated nor as smoky, as its three Southern cousins surrounding Port Ellen.

Bottle to buy:

Bowmore 15 Year Old

The evolution of Johnnie Walker’s Striding Man

Johnnie Walker

The biggest name in Scotch whisky. In fact, a brand that might even be bigger than Scotch whisky when it comes to name recognition. It dates back to a grocer’s shop in Kilmarnock founded by John Walker who began blending a consistent product. It was his son ALexander Walker, however, who turned this enterprise into first a national and then a global enterprise through brilliant marketing and, of course, great whisky. 

Bottle to buy:

Johnnie Walker Gold Label 


Monkey Shoulder

When Monkey Shoulder was launched in 2005, all the excitement in Scotch whisky was around single malts. But William Grant & Sons showed that blends could appeal to a whole new generation. Since then Monkey Shoulder, a blend of malt whiskies, has become a huge favourite particularly among bartenders. By the way, the name comes from a ligament injury sometimes sustained by maltmen, who spend great lengths of time bending over to turn the barley by hand. So now you know.

Bottle to buy:

Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt



Ballantine’s is another blended whisky brand that began its life in a grocer’s, this time in an Edinburgh shop belonging to George Ballantine. It’s since gone on to be one of the biggest blended Scotch brands in the world. Ballantine’s Finest is huge in Europe and ubiquitous in the United States. Oddly though, it’s not marketed heavily in its home country for some reason best known to owners Pernod Ricard.

Bottle to buy:

Ballantine’s Finest


The post What are the best Scotch whisky brands? appeared first on Master of Malt Blog.

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